When I was little, I was not good at getting shots. In fact, getting a shot still isn’t one of my strong suits, and you could say that the inner panic elicited by the sight of a syringe is one of my character flaws. At this point, I’m old enough to contain the fear—although any practiced nurse can read my tight lips and white knuckles—and make it through rounds of shots and vaccinations that always take me by surprise and pop up throughout the year.
But it’s the anticipation of the shot that gets me more than the pain of the needle itself. As I would wait in the reception of the doctor’s office back home, sitting on the edge of a hard, wooden bench, I always try to distract myself by looking at the quilts on the wall or the curio cabinets filled with gleaming shells or old-time amber bottles of medicine. I can’t help it. My mind inevitably drifts from the eclectic office decorations, and I envision the nurse, decked out in a pink pair of scrubs covered in tiny butterflies, coming into the room bearing a small tray neatly lined with syringes. With my throat tight and fists clenched I usually sit and wait for the shots to end, trying to comply with the nurse’s instructions to “relax because it will make it less painful,” but ultimately failing. But that’s fine, because it’s usually all pretty fast, over in a minute or two—unless there’s a finger prick, and there’s always a finger prick. That one’s the worst, a terrible method of drawing blood from a small incision made on one of your fingers that takes a small eternity as they try and extract a testable amount of blood from such a small extremity on your body. I would describe the experience as horrific, but as evidenced above this is probably an exaggeration because I am a baby about shots.
So given this, my irrational fear of getting shots and coming within touch distance of a needle, it’s strange that I found myself sitting in a tattoo parlor this weekend.
Almost every college had its local tattoo and piercing salon—the place where freshmen go to make their first rebellious choice of adulthood by getting extra holes punched into their ears or little droplets of ink painted under their skin—and Boston College’s is probably Stingray. It’s down in Allston, about 10 minutes from the Harvard Ave. stop on the B line, and it isn’t really the den of iniquity that your parents warned you about. It’s clean, there are bowls of lollipops and piles board games scattered throughout the spacious waiting room, and huddles of teenage girls are scattered through the room. In their athletic leggings and floral dresses, the look slightly out of place amongst the grey carpets and edgy art. Every once in awhile, someone who is actually committed to the counterculture aesthetic associated with tattoo parlors will wander into the shop, and the huddles of girls with turn, looking them up and down quickly as they admire a carefully constructed mohawk or a wash of blue hair. These are the true rebels.
I am not a rebel, which was obvious from prompt my 12:30 p.m. arrival alone, and from the fact that I was about three years late to the game. I was also not there for a tattoo, but for a tame ear piercing, and my friends and I had decided that going during the daytime was an obvious choice—why risk anything going wrong at night?
The strange thing was that I hadn’t expected to be so nervous. I had done this a few times before, managing to separate general fear of needles from this specific instance of needles—a logic of separation that is not only flawed, but completely nonsensical. But it had worked in the past, it just wasn’t working now.
As my friends and I sat huddles on a couch in the corner, watching people move in and out of the shop, a heightened anxiety built in my throat—a fear of the (very negligible) physical pain coupled with the fear of my mother hating me forever and the possibility that I was making a terrible decision. I tried mentally talking myself down, but pretty much ended up gripping my friends hands in silence, and sucking on a cherry flavored lollipop. And oddly enough, that (the lollipop but mostly the hands), helped calm me down more than logic ever could.
In a weird way, piercing salons are similar to doctor’s offices, they’re both infused with this cloud of anticipation that you cannot shake. The anticipation is always worse the pain itself could ever be, turning even the littlest poke of a needle into something as mighty as the cut of a knife. And I don’t know if there’s really something you can do to help manage anticipation, but just having someone there, someone’s hand to grip too tightly, makes a difference.
Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor